Reconstructing the Microbial Diversity and Function of Pre-Agricultural Tallgrass Prairie Soils in the United States

by Fierer, Ladau, et al.

Native tallgrass prairie once dominated much of the midwestern United States, but this biome and the soil microbial diversity that once sustained this highly productive system have been almost completely eradicated by decades of agricultural practices.

We reconstructed the soil microbial diversity that once existed in this biome by analyzing relict prairie soils and found that the biogeographical patterns were largely driven by changes in the relative abundance of Verrucomicrobia, a poorly studied bacterial phylum that appears to dominate many prairie soils.

Shotgun metagenomic data suggested that these spatial patterns were associated with strong shifts in carbon dynamics. We show that metagenomic approaches can be used to reconstruct below-ground biogeochemical and diversity gradients in endangered ecosystems; such information could be used to improve restoration efforts, given that even small changes in below-ground microbial diversity can have important impacts on ecosystem processes…

(read the paper here: Science Magazine/AAAS)

photos: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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